No Homework – 2 Years Later

Two years ago, I decided I had had enough of taking my students’ time outside of school.  Two years ago I decided that I had had enough with worksheets, meaningless extra assignments, and sending work home with kids well knowing that they probably could not do it.  I had had enough of giving kids zeroes and A’s never quite knowing who had done the work or whether they truly “got” it.  So I stopped assigning home work  or at least tried to.  You see, stopping homework in out test obsessed, common core aligned  standards based education is not that easy.  It looks great on paper and I wish I could say that my students have no homework, but it is not quite true.  They have limited homework because there are some things I cannot get around.  So here are some lessons I have learned in the last 2 years:
  • Common core aligned does not mean more focused, it usually means more pages to get through.  Our math curriculum went from averaging 3 pages a lesson to 5 – I now rush through them so that students can have some work time in class and I can reteach the concepts I need with small groups but I am sad to say there is almost always math homework at the end of the day.  And don’t even get me started on the crazy amount of pages in Lucy Calkins stuff.
  • We don’t have enough time to read.  I used to have a luxurious 30 minutes of independent reading built into my day where students actually just read.  I would confer with small groups, read one on one with students and move about leisurely discussing strategies with them.  Now we have to have guided lessons, small groups, write about our reading and one-on-one discussions within 45 minutes.  I am lucky if my kids get 15 minutes of pure reading time so every week I ask them to read 210 minutes throughout the week.  I don’t care what they read, as long as they read, and no, they do not have a log to fill out, we have the honor system.
  • Kids will struggle with getting things done in time even when you give them classtime.  We do spelling as our morning work so every day students have 10 minutes to work on it with being due on Friday.  For most students this is no problem and they finish by Wednesday  but those that have a hard time focusing, getting started, staying motivated; they still end up with late work.    And not just for spelling, when I give students in-class time to finish science responses, do social studies projects and so forth, there are always some that struggle with deadlines.  Every week I have this in my classroom and I am still not sure what to do about it.  
  • Taking recess is still against my beliefs.  I very, very, very rarely ask a student to stay in during recess and if I do it is to discuss something behaviorally with them.  However, once in a while a child gets so behind, so lackadaisical about getting work done and using their time wisely that they have to stay in.  So far this year it has happened once and only after I had given the child a whole week to finish the work outside of school.  Once they were done with the work though; out they go.
  • Some parents will want more work, some parents will want less.  To no fail some always feel I don’t give their kids enough work to practice their skills or get them ready for middle school, while others still think it is too much.  There is no magical way of making everybody happy, but only contuing to communicate what we are doing and why.  
  • I still believe homework is unnecessary but boy it can be hard to get rid of.   Our curriculum is written to be extremely difficult to get through in a regular school day so I battle this every day.  But it gets better every year as I get wiser and smarter about how my students can accomplish their learning goals and show me they have mastered something.  I do not use worksheets outside of class and we do much more project based learning with student and teacher determined learning goals.  

I have never lost my belief that homework should be banned in school and as I continue to work through my new curriculum, I maintain that belief. I do not believe that homework is the only way to teach students time management, responsibility, and to show me they have learned something.  There are many ways to do that, but to do it well you have to tear apart your curriculum, tear apart your expectations of what a finished product looks like, and tear apart what you think students can accomplish.

If you are looking at going no homework but unsure of what to do, reach out, I will gladly help if I can.  
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17 thoughts on “No Homework – 2 Years Later

  1. Hi there. I'm opening a middle school in about 8 months — http://trianglearning.org — and my intent is to have students do work at home starting in 6th grade (middle school means 6-8 grade here in Durham, NC), but it won't be meaningless — it will be some combination of practicing reading, practicing math concepts (perhaps using Khan Academy), and working on real-world projects. Eventually — roughly half way to two-thirds of the way through 6th grade — students will learn to assign themselves interesting and appropriately challenging work to do at home. I'm curious to know whether you think your logic against HW in 5th grade would apply to 6th grade and up.

  2. I haven't given a true "homework" assignment in almost four years and it was the greatest decision I've made in my professional career. I was so frustrated with students who couldn't/wouldn't complete the assignments, and as you alluded to, just because they "did" the assignment doesn't mean they "learned" anything. I believe asking homework of kids does more harm than good and I don't regret it for a second. Now, I love to teach kids that when they're at school, we're focused on learning and when they go home, they need to focus on family, friends and fun. Occasionally, students will get behind on classwork and ask to take it home, which I have no qualms with. Likewise, some students get so passionate about certain assignments, they ask to work further at home. Inspiring the passion to work additionally is awesome – coercing it out of kids who are better served doing other things is not. Great read here, thanks for sharing. I may contact you later to swap notes if you're up for it.

  3. Steve,I teach 8th graders in a similiar mindset as the one described above. I believe every reason mentioned applies equally to middle school and even high school. The value of homework comes in students learning that additional effort outside the classroom equalls more success. This lesson is learned more effectively and naturally when students use home as an extension of school work-not in being required to do additional works at home. Just my opinion, I just don't think the academic value is there to justify the stress on teachers, students and parents. Good luck with your new school.

  4. Hi Steve,Thank you so much for the link and comment. I agree with Mark, what I outline absolutely applies to any age. Why the need to have them work outside of school? If you have the chance to build a school from scratch why not keep all work at school by developing rich learning opportunities that students cannot wait to get to school to do?Best,Pernille

  5. Joy Kirr says:

    I'm trying… The only real homework I've given this year is to read. I teach 7th grade ELA, and my students know why reading helps them become better readers and writers. They also know they can choose to read anything, as I ask them to read for enjoyment or to learn something. They set two-week goals for themselves (with my 1-1 guidance), and grade themselves on their progress. I currently have a parent who is wanting me to send home supplemental work for her child, as she doesn't feel her child will be prepared for 8th grade. My frustration is this – when can a kid be a kid at home? I don't know what her home life is like, but I don't want to ruin any love she might have of school by giving her extra work to do at home. This work may be completed at 7 at night, not checked by me until 3 the next day, turned back to the student at 9 the next morning. What if the work was done wrong? Feedback is so integral to learning, and I want to be next to the student to catch what I can, and encourage what I can at that moment, not 38 hours or so later. I will continue on this path, but I want to know – how do you prepare the parents??

  6. Anonymous says:

    Just curious…. would you say that musicians should not practice at home? I agree busy work needs to end, but if you don't practice a skill set, you won't get better. True with a trumpet, true with math, true with writing….

  7. Lisa Nielsen says:

    @Steve Goldberg, Why do you think that children need to work at home? Why can't they be children and live, laugh, play, discover and explore "their" passions, spend time with friends and family, do work they get paid to do. Why must we assign them what Gary Stagger calls a second unpaid shift at home? What you are proposing is a flipped school which is a model that many educators oppose for the reasons and research I laid out in this article, "Why the flip's a flop." http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2012/12/why-flips-flop.htmlI wish you luck with your school, but I hope that instead of requiring students to do meaningful work at home, you'll consider just having that be what they do at school.

  8. Lisa Nielsen says:

    @Anonymous, The difference between what you are asking about musicians and practice is that musicians choose to practice. In the case of students they can certainly choose to do work at home, but it should not be imposed upon them. The other thing is that students are already scheduled at school for 6 – 7 hours each day. Let them do their practice during that time.

  9. Ken says:

    Excellent approach. Let's keep in mind that the issue is not just what is or is not effective, but the underlying question of whether teachers should have the authority to override parental decision-making in the home. It is my belief that if teachers gave homework with the understanding that it was taking place on "borrowed ground," it would stimulate them to create better, homework free or homework reduced models for teaching. Teachers are bright, educated, professionals who are more than capable of teaching children well in the time they have. They need recognition for their skills and support for the fact that they can accomplish teaching goals in direct relationship with students with the time they have.

  10. ptenca1 says:

    I`m really trying to understand that bad feeling against homework.I mean… Sometimes, I give my students exercises to do at home so that they can show their parents how much they know. And it takes them no more than 10 or 15 minutes.On the other hand, there are some concepts that they learn better if they practice (like maths)… so I give them Web pages where they can practice, learn and have fun.So… I think the problem is how we present the homework and not the homework itself.Sorry for my English… I`m writting from Spain.

  11. Anonymous says:

    @JoyI would love to know more about how you do the two-week goal and they grade themselves. Please, please email me at erintonnar@hotmail.com and let me know it's you from the No Homework blogpost! Thanks!! -Erin

  12. MamaB says:

    My daughter has a flute lesson once a week for 30 minutes, so yes, she has to put in practice every day to get better. At school, she has math every day for 40-50 minutes, so she needs minimal time outside of school.

  13. Sarah Meador says:

    Hi! I just found your blog, thank you or sharing! Have you heard of whole brain teaching? It has truly revolutionized my teaching (I'm 6th science). It's an amazing mivrment that's includes hundreds of strategies from classroom management to reading to math facts. It focuses on bringing the fun back into the classroom while using a child's whole brain though speaking, listening, moving, and connecting emotionally to the lesson. As part of WBT, there is. Universal homework model that itching you would love. I've got a post about it at http://wbtforme.blogspot.com/2012/08/universal-homework-model.html or you can do a Google search for it and find many other resources. Thanks for your blog!

  14. Sarah Meador says:

    Sorry about all of the typos in my post above! Wow autocorrect on the iPad isn't so hot right now! I'm giving myself a mini-lecture on the importance of proof reading!

  15. […] outside of class.  You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.  I have written about my struggles here so don’t feel you have to be perfect as you get rid of it, but do take steps to think of the […]

  16. […] how about eliminating it in one subject?  While I am proponent of not assigning any, even I sometimes have to.  So a way to change the way you do homework is to just not give it in one subject.  Check in […]

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